What Belongs to God?

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Matthew 22:21

It was a long time ago: I was very young. My brother and I lived in the same university town. It was long before there was such a thing as an ATM, and my brother did not yet have a checking account. He needed $75.00. Our parents called; could I give it to him, and they would send me a check to cover it? Yes, I could. I was poor as dirt, and all my money was earmarked for food and rent. But I could make this temporary loan. Their check would come soon, and all would be well. I went to the bank and got the money. My brother worked at MacDonald’s. I would go there and take it to him.

But somewhere between the bank and Macdonald’s, I lost the envelope with the $75 in it. Frantic, I retraced my steps. I asked at the bank. I asked at every store I had passed along the way. I asked a policeman. But it was $75 cash in a bank envelope; of course it was gone.

I wanted to cry, I know; it was so long ago that I don’t remember whether I did or not. $75 was a fortune to me in the 1960s. Now what? Maybe I could just explain to David that I had lost the money. He was poor, too; he knew what $75 meant. Surely he wouldn’t expect me to cover it myself, not once he heard what had happened. He’d understand. I didn’t owe him this money, after all.

But he needed it. He had nowhere else to get it. And I couldn’t ask my parents to cover $150 instead of $75, not after I’d been foolish enough to lose an envelope of cash. I don’t know how long I wavered about what to do. I had rent to pay and a toddler to feed. In the end I decided to do the right thing and give my brother what he needed. My faith in God was rudimentary in those days; I wish I could say that I trusted in the presence of God to take care of things, but I really didn’t. I was in despair as I handed him the money.

But then, you don’t have to trust in the presence of God in order for God to be present. God is free. Summoned or not, God is with us. I don’t remember now how we managed the $75 hit, but we did. We didn’t starve.

You can take Jesus’ cryptic answer about a Roman coin two ways, of course. The emperor’s picture is on it; give it to him. Or maybe Jesus means something else: everything is God’s, including all the wealth. Nobody else really owns everything. We hold the things we possess, only for a season.

What if we thought of our money as really belonging to God? We’d have to ask what God wants us to do with it.

From Mo. Barbara Crafton’s “Almost Daily eMo”, Oct. 20, 2008. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

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